Beach Rats director Eliza Hittman returns with a typically low-key drama which tackles the subject of abortion with commendable maturity and impressive precision. Starring newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder, Never Rarely Sometimes Always once again showcases Hittman’s particular brand of socially minded narratives in a film which could well be her best work to date.
Suspecting that she might be pregnant, 17 year old high school student Autumn (Flanigan) visits a local crisis pregnancy centre in her small rural Pennsylvania town where her worst fears are confirmed. Despite making it abundantly clear to the women at the centre that she will be seeking a termination, Autumn is immediately offered literature on adoption and shown an anti-abortion video in the hope she might change her mind.
Realising that she is unable to get an abortion in Pennsylvania without parental consent, the young woman confesses her pregnancy to her cousin Skylar (Ryder). Stealing cash from the grocery store where they both work, the young women are seen hopping on a bus to New York where Autumn has arranged an appointment at an abortion clinic.
Hittman’s smart and refreshingly restrained storytelling techniques make this into so much more than a narrative about teenage pregnancy. It is a film full of tender moments and moments of utter wrenching despair. Slow and contemplative in tone, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is as much about what is implied as it is about what is explicitly said.
With intimate and often claustrophobic close-ups, Hittman’s characters are beautifully framed, but never too rigidly directed. She presents a film which is not only unabashedly pro-choice, but also a film about the importance of consent and about respecting personal boundaries. As Skylar is harassed, cajoled and pursued by an overbearing young man the girls meet on their way to New York (an impressive Théodore Pellerin), there is a strong sense that the film is far more concerned with pursuing these kinds of ideas than just those attached to the film’s initial premise.
Flanigan gives a gorgeously understated turn as the teenager whose pregnancy is a symptom of a much darker and more heartbreaking secret. Although there may only be fleeting allusion to who is responsible for said abuse, Hittman does a great job in implying, but never revealing it.
This is a remarkable story of strength, friendship and female empowerment. Hittman impresses once more in a narrative about youth, a subject she clearly excels at.